Ferndale City Council members approved a development plan this week that they believe will serve as a tool to keep downtown Ferndale bustling for the next 20 years.
The amendment to the Ferndale Downtown Development and Tax Increment Financing Plan, which council passed unanimously Monday night, extends the 1981 TIF for an additional 20 years and updates the projects included in the plan.
The DDA is funded through tax increment financing, or TIF, which is the ability to capture the incremental increase in property taxes that results from improvements in the district.
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter has lived in Ferndale for 21 years and said he has seen firsthand the benefits of the current TIF.
“The development of our downtown is nothing short of remarkable,” he said. “I think the TIF is the single biggest catalyst to making that happen.”
Council held a public hearing on the plan Monday, where a large crowd of DDA volunteers showed up to support the amendment. They clapped after council approved the plan, which divides projects into three main categories: development-related, streetscape and traffic and parking.
Included in the projects that the DDA will now begin under the revised plan are a new public art initiative which will be installed in June, streetscape and traffic flow reconfiguration for Troy and Allen, and adding more wayfinding signs to the area.
Downtown Development Authority Director Cristina Sheppard-Decius presented the DDA's plan along with David Birchler from community planning firm Birchler Arroyo Associates, based in Lathrup Village.
Sheppard-Decius described Ferndale in the 1920s through 1960s as a “bustling downtown.”
“It was a place that middle America truly called home and did business,” she said.
But as shopping malls grew in popularity in the 1970s, the vacancy rate in Ferndale went up and people began to leave the area.
“A lot of properties were very much neglected and abandoned throughout the downtown area,” Sheppard-Decius said. “There was a great sense of loss of place.”
Today, she said, “things are very different.” The evolution began around 1980 when the DDA was established and the 1981 TIF was approved to grow the area, she said.
The vacancy rate is now less than 5 percent and in 2010 Ferndale was named a Great American Main Street – a distinction held by only two other cities in Michigan, Sheppard-Decius said.
Jason Fowler, who spoke at the meeting representing the Woodward Avenue Action Association, said the amendment to the existing TIF plan is integral to the area's continued development.
“We believe that it is really spearheading an effort that we would like to see expanded throughout the rest of the corridor,” Fowler said. “We are here to support it.”
Ferndale resident Sherry Wells also spoke in favor of the amendment and updated development plan and said it will help prevent downtowns from becoming “ghost towns” as they did in the 1970s.
“The DDA concept is to keep that from happening,” she said, adding that the Ferndale DDA has more work to do in the area. “I support this being continued.”
Captured revenues from TIF are used to finance public improvement projects within the district as a means for jumpstarting economic growth. TIF is a “tool to reinvest in Downtown Ferndale,” Sheppard-Decius said.
The DDA provides a wide variety of services including streetscapes, maintaining and improving areas, encouraging and assisting new businesses to redevelop properties, marketing and more.
“We have changed the identify of Downtown Ferndale for all,” Sheppard-Decius said, adding that Ferndale is a place where people are proud to call home.
Though the DDA has plans to try to expand its TIF districts in the future, this renewal is for the current districts only.
Councilwoman Melanie Piana said she has asked herself whether the DDA's plan is the right economic development strategy for moving the city forward for the next 20 years. “To me, it's pretty obvious that it is,” she said.
“It has worked well for the last 20 years with a lot of results produced in the last 10 and I think going forward this sets a nice path for us to follow in order to see some new results for promoting growth in downtown,” Piana said.
Councilman Dan Martin said the development of downtown in the last 10 years has been “remarkable.”
“I think this plan is congruent with that and I gladly support it,” Martin said.
Mayor Coulter said he agrees it was the right tool in 1981 and will continue to be the right tool for the next 20 years. He pointed out that while the TIF mainly captures district dollars that would otherwise go elsewhere, some dollars would otherwise go to the Ferndale general fund.
“It is an investment that we're making tonight in our downtown and that I do support making because the results have spoken for themselves,” Coulter said.
The renewal lasts 20 years but can be amended at any time, Sheppard-Decius said.